By Gal Snir
“Damn it, I just like to dance.”
Ben Goosman, one of the three current facilitators for Sh*t Gold, exclaimed from their spot at the picnic table in Ravenna Park, under the glow of the afternoon sunshine.
Sh*t Gold, is a bi-monthly open mic-style performance night historically hosted at Velocity Dance Center. The performances usually gather over thirty attentive audience members and artists of all mediums who come to showcase their unfinished works in any medium, dive into experimentation, and take risks. But here it is today, not at night nor at Velocity, but tucked away in a small corner of Ravenna Park. The spirit of this Sh*t Gold installment was carried not by a crowd of thirty, but by four lovely folks in masks and the outdoor Seattle breeze, one of several simultaneous Sh*t Golds being held in several Seattle parks, midday on a Sunday.
As we continued making conversation, I realized I anticipated them to be full-time artists.
“I’m a software engineer,” voiced Luke Schlather, theater enthusiast and singer, followed by an echo from Goosman who later explained to me that their entrance into dance began by performing in Strictly Seattle a couple years ago.
“Plasma Physics,” shared Elliot Claveau, second of the three facilitators for this first-ever outdoor Sh*t Gold shindig.
Pleasantly surprised, I asked each of them what their artistic passions were and how it’s been for them to practice what they love during this intense time. Somber nods of agreement over the weirdness of performing over zoom. After a few minutes, I felt like I was sitting around the table with old friends, not complete strangers I met at a park.
Claveau explained, “I like to take a lot of risks with my performances, and that’s exactly the spirit of Sh*t Gold. My main mediums are clowning and playing music.”A confused facial expression from me prompted him to elaborate, “Clowning is humor that is centered around the idea of failure.” The only acceptable humor for 2020.
With that we greeted dancer and writer, Charlie Jones, and lugged our bikes over to another shaded patch of the park to start the round of perfomrances.
Goosman shares their most recent work-in-progress first, a track titled “April 5.” The audio is composed of poetry readings by their friend April Ulinski, sent to them through voicemails, overlaid with music Goosman created. They hit play and wander off into the sunny field in front of us. Ulinski’s staticy voice fills the air and an ambient track of deep overtones and beautiful ohms immediately follows, forming a dense bubble of sound around us. While the main focus of the performance seems to be the audio, Goosman’s physical presence also becomes part of the performance as they chase a butterfly a few yards away. Their distance from us makes me feel as if I am watching them through an old film reel. Of the words I hear on the track, “Cartography of quiet,” and “A hundred cottonwood seeds,” linger in my mind. Goosman jumps in place, arms reaching towards the clouds. The phrase, “Trees don’t need us. Each year, they produce more green. Photosynthesis.” I find my eyes drifting from Goosman’s outstretched fingers to the tall branches surrounding us and the cars zooming in and out of view on the outskirts of the grassy enclosure. Despite of COVID-19 closing all artistic venues and spaces, artists still find ways to create magic and here was one proof of it. Listening to Goosman’s music outside felt otherworldly and an experience I doubt would have happened under different circumstances.
After the track finishes, the group takes a moment to reflect in silence before going into the Q&A. Jones comments on parts of the track that stood out to her and I immediately ask Goosman for his Soundcloud account.
The introspective atmosphere cultivated by Goosman’s music carries over to Jones’ turn to share as she asks us each to pull out a piece of paper and a pen. Jones’ soft voice leads us through a series of questions that I highly recommend any person reading this to contemplate:
- What has been most difficult about this pandemic?
- What person or group of people are you experiencing negative emotions about?
- What are you participating in to support Black Lives Matter and what more can you do to grow in your activism?
- Based on your answers to the questions above, what values would you like to set that will help you in growing into the person you most want to be?
Afterwards, we take the last few minutes to stand up, shake out our bodies, and stretch. The sun is slightly lower in the sky now and I feel the group take a collective inhale before sitting back down in the grass. Jones shares with us having wanted to lead a group of people through that activity for a while now and explains that the questions were inspired by Shaun King’s book, The Power of 100!
Jones’ guided practice made me long for my modern technique classes and the dance faculty at the UW. For the first time in a few months, I remember for a few moments what taking class in person was like. My heart lightens as I remember and then immediately sinks at the uncertainty of when we will all be together again. On the bright side, the small group size of this Sh*t Gold event allowed Jones to introduce an interactive element. While we adhere to social distancing and miss our large dance community, more intimate experiences like these might be on the horizon.
The last two to go, Claveau and Schlather, took us back into the musical realm for a collaborative performance. Schlather pulled out his phone for some lyrics he wrote and found a completely improvised melody to accompany Claveau’s randomized chord patterns. The song, and Shclather’s deep and resonant voice, gave off a somber mood, reminding me of prayers sung on Jewish holidays.
Claveau’s solo performance took us in an entirely different turn. Alternating from speaking to singing, he told a story about a job interview, using a self-check out aisle, and waiting for the 44 bus line to UW Medical Center. It was random, humorous, and most of all heartwarming.
“Well, that was a pretty successful test drive.”
We all give a laugh to Claveau’s half-surprised statement and begin to collect our things. I leave Ravenna park with grass stains on my knees, a fuller heart, and a reminder of the importance of play. Especially at a time like this, when we are unsure of the state of the next few months, politically, COVID-19 wise, or personally. I saw play, expression, and imagination lift the spirits of these artists at Sh*t Gold and allow them to look forward and experience joy despite the uncertainties.
The Sh*t Gold team is looking forward to hosting more of their events outdoors and maybe more often, while the weather lasts. Those interested should keep an eye out for future next events on the Sh*t Gold Facebook page because it was quite the treasure of an experience.